The Department of Basic Education has confirmed the updated 2021 return dates for both public and private schools in South Africa.
In a gazette published this weekend, Basic education minister Angie Motshekga indicated that the return of students will be staggered, with private school pupils allowed to return to school two weeks earlier than their public school counterparts.
The gazette also confirms that no pupils are allowed to return before the specified dates – either at public or private schools – although the document does not prohibit online or distance learning in any way.
Officials may also access school premises during the period of closure if required to do so, for purposes of preparation in anticipation of the reopening of schools.
The updated return dates are as follows:
- 25 January 2021: The principal, the school management team including Education Assistants and General Assistants (Basic Education Employment Initiative) and non-teaching staff must return to school;
- 1 February 2021: All educators must return to school;
- 1 February 2021: Private school learners may return to school;
- 15 February 2021: All learners must return to school.
Decision around private schools questioned
Government’s decision to prohibit the return of private schools until next week has already drawn scrutiny, with trade union Solidarity indicating that it has sought legal advice on the issue.
According to Solidarity, the department has no say in the dates on which independent schools should open or close.
“The pandemic is going to last for a long time and an unlawful decision now may set a precedent for abuse of power in the future,” Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann said.
In its lawyer’s letter, Hermann said that Solidarity informs the minister that she does not have the powers to issue such directives compelling independent schools to these actions, noting that these powers vest only with the Minister of Cooperative Governance.
Consequently, the issuing of such directives by the DBE is in fact invalid. Solidarity further insists that the government amend the directives accordingly and publish such in the Government Gazette by no later than 16h00 on 25 January.
“The minister is acting outside the powers conferred on her. Announcing now that independent schools must wait another week before they may reopen, or that those that have already opened have to close again, is unlawful. A pandemic does not justify wrongful decisions,” Hermann said.